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Virginia growers to present grand champion tree and wreaths to governor’s family

virginia governor executive mansion
(© pabrady63 –

A Canaan fir seedling planted 10 years ago has grown into the tree that will debut this Christmas season at the Virginia Executive Mansion.

The grand champion tree and handmade wreaths, selected by a three-judge panel for the annual Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association competition, will be delivered to Gov. Ralph Northam and his family on Nov. 29.

Tree entries are judged on straightness, fullness and overall health and color in the contest that celebrates the diverse variety of Virginia-grown Christmas trees. Trees and wreaths were judged at the association’s annual meeting in August.

This year’s grand champion fir was grown by Louisa County Farm Bureau members Virginia and John Carroll of Claybrooke Farms. They have planted trees on 25 acres since 1984, and their trees previously have been presented to former governors Bob McDonnell and Terry McAuliffe.

“It was a nice surprise because there were a good number of entries in the contest this year,” John Carroll said. “We are honored to win and present the tree to Gov. Northam and the first lady at the mansion.”

August’s winning Canaan fir was 7.5 feet tall with green-blue hues, a pleasant aroma and sturdy branches. A similar, somewhat larger Canaan fir will have a holiday home at the governor’s mansion.

“The contest encourages growers to continue to keep growing better trees, with quality at its best for our consumers,” Carroll said, adding that cultivating gorgeous Christmas trees is a family endeavor.

“I didn’t grow the tree by myself,” he said. “But I did cut it!”

Robert O’Keeffe, who organizes the association’s competitions, said four categories of trees can be grand champion—firs, pines, spruces and others, like cypress or cedar.

“Fraser fir is the Cadillac of Christmas trees, and most in-demand by consumers,” he said. “But the other trees are eligible and do win.”

Ken and Elaine Rhoades of Mountain View Christmas Tree Farm in Shenandoah County submitted August’s grand champion wreath. The family will create similar, fresh wreaths to adorn the mansion’s gates and doors.

The Rhoades’ winning mixed green wreath was made with Scotch pine backing, topped with white pine, arborvitae and Turkish fir, with blue ice cypress accents.

Rhoades said his parents, Stephen and Sharon Rhoades, have long created the stylish natural wreaths, which have fetched the grand prize in past association contests.

“It promotes a little competition in the organization, plus it’s a fun event,” O’Keeffe said. “And it’s beneficial for new growers to see the quality and variety of champion trees.”